The Wallingford Community Senior Center smelled of bacon. Canvas banners welcomed the "thundering" 36th and 43rd District Democrats. It was an early morning appreciation breakfast for door knockers. Cary Moon greeted me by a table covered with stickers and flyers. It was surrounded by an older, nearly all white crowd of potential campaign volunteers. I asked her how she was doing.
"It's still a steep uphill climb, but we're gaining lots of momentum," she answered. She pulled aside her aide, Linh Thai, and told him about a promising connection to Our Revolution, the political group that grew out of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. Maybe they could get an endorsement? Our Revolution released its slate of 2017 endorsements on October 23. Moon's name did not appear on the list, but she did get nods from local chapters.
Moon and I wandered into the cafeteria, where no one touched offerings of muffins and mimosas. Not even I was tempted. Mitzi Johanknecht, a veteran cop running for King County sheriff, shook hands and stood awkwardly in a doorway. Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes swung by wearing a button that read "Donald Trump is a farty pants." Moon's opponent for mayor, former US Attorney Jenny Durkan, didn't show.
Moon waved down Tina Podlodowski, chair of the Washington State Democratic Party. Podlodowski asked the candidate how she was doing. "It's still a steep uphill climb, but we're gaining lots of momentum," Moon answered.
Podlodowski, who took on her role in January after losing a race for secretary of state, pulled the candidate closer. "No matter the outcome, we should talk after this. Because I'm really curious, when you started, did you ever think you would get to this point? As far as I'm concerned, you guys are neck and neck," Podlodowski said. "I know you originally got in to raise issues, and now it's a completely different race."
Moon's last high-profile campaign, the hard-fought but ultimately unsuccessful effort to prevent the construction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel and instead build a surface option that would have saved about a billion dollars, ended nearly a decade ago. After that, she sat on a city committee tasked with overseeing the waterfront revitalization. As detailed in a Seattle Times profile of Moon, it's hard to pinpoint what she's done since then. Moon has listed her occupation as unemployed or retired on public documents and said during a September forum that she has been on "sabbatical" from paid work. It's hard to shake the feeling that Moon didn't expect to make it to the general election, that her primary run was intended to raise her profile and ease her back into civic life. On primary night, when early returns showed her in second place, observers at her party at Cyclops Cafe said Moon looked flabbergasted.
Campaigning hasn't come naturally to Moon. "I like to be careful and thoughtful and intentional about what I'm proposing and how I speak about it," she told me later. "That pace is not what campaigning is, so I always feel rushed."
She's in a hurry now. By any conventional metric, Moon is far behind with a week to go before Seattle finishes voting. A September poll sponsored by Moon's campaign showed her two points shy of Durkan. But a telephone poll of voters with landlines showed Durkan leading by 25 points. (Landline users skew older and more conservative.)
Durkan, a former prosecutor with deep ties to Seattle and Washington State's Democratic establishment, is crushing Moon in endorsements. She got nods from former US attorney general Eric Holder, the Trump-suing state attorney general Bob Ferguson, model progressive governor Jay Inslee, the Seattle Times editorial board, some of the biggest unions in the state, and a majority of city council members. Moon has won endorsements from Democratic districts, a handful of labor unions, city council member Mike O'Brien, the Seattle Weekly and The Stranger.
Moneywise, there's no contest. Durkan's campaign is flush with cash, raising more than twice as much as Moon with four times as many donors. And that's not counting the more than $800,000 raised by her independent expenditure group, which includes financial support from labor unions and a business coalition that counts among its members Amazon, Alaska Airlines, Starbucks, and Comcast.
More than half of Moon's campaign cash comes from her own wealth (from the sale of her family's respirator manufacturing business). Her campaign has received fewer individual contributions in five months than Nikkita Oliver received during the primary season.
But despite the "steep uphill climb," Moon sees a lot to celebrate.
"I already feel like I've won," Moon told Podlodowski. Her campaign, she said, has prompted a "higher-level conversation" about the city's most entrenched problems. But there's no prize for participation. Whether Moon's vision for Seattle becomes a reality requires more than a winning feeling. She has to win.
Right before she spoke with Podlodowski, Moon turned to me and asked if I'd ever gone door-knocking. I had not. Moon and her campaign didn't start knocking on doors until late September, five months after she announced her candidacy for mayor in an interview with The Stranger, another hint that she maybe didn't expect to make it through the primary. She didn't come into the race with "strong, existing relationships with communities that are organizing," she said, explaining her late start.
As Podlodowski addressed the room of Democratic door knockers, talking up the importance of the state senate race for the 45th Legislative District, Thai guided Moon out of the room. We hopped into his Subaru and headed for Occidental Park, where Moon was scheduled to deliver remarks to a small crowd participating in something called the March for Peace. Moon gave a 40-second speech and posed for photographs before heading to her campaign headquarters, a third-story Pioneer Square loft with large windows and exposed brick. There, she sat with Thai and another staffer to prep for a candidate forum on Beacon Hill hosted by the Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees, and Communities of Color (CIRCC).
CIRCC represents East African, Latino, Southeast Asian, and other immigrant populations. Thai, a cofounder, explained that the group values equity in education. Also, CIRCC feels that the city's Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs could do a much better job of reaching out to them. When CIRCC hosted a debate during the primary, Moon felt ill and had to leave early.
"Key things to make clear are sharing power, real solutions, transparency, and accountability in the mayor's office," Moon said. All these "key things" are oft-repeated Moon talking points. Sharing power refers to Moon's leadership style, wherein she says she will run a collaborative office, while casting Durkan as a top-down authoritarian. Real solutions refer to policy proposals. Transparency and accountability are vague buzzwords tossed around by all political campaigns.
"Focus, ready, present," Moon said, sitting up straight in her chair. "I feel present and ready."
Both Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon donned CIRCC T-shirts for the forum at the Eritrean Association of Greater Seattle. In contrast to the morning's breakfast in Wallingford, Moon and Durkan appeared to be the only white people in the room. The organization tapped youth of color to serve as panelists, who asked questions on homelessness, affordability, jobs, police reform, and gentrification.
For the most part, candidates regurgitated talking points they've made at earlier forums hosted by Democratic groups, nonprofits, and media organizations. Any candidate, at this point in a campaign, is going to be running on autopilot. They're asked the same questions again and again, and can't avoid giving their answers again and again. Durkan touted her work on the Seattle Police Department consent decree. Moon said Mayor Ed Murray's up-zone and affordable housing plan (HALA) didn't do enough to address some neighborhood concerns. Durkan said HALA needs to go forward as soon as possible. Moon raised her signature issue of curbing real-estate speculation.
But despite all the déjà vu, one moment stood out. In previous forums, when asked how she plans to pay for her programs, Moon pushed progressive taxes, such as a capital gains tax or excise tax on luxury properties. Durkan typically hits back by saying such ideas would need approval from Olympia, painting Moon as an impractical idealist. (See 32:00 in this clip.) During televised debates, when more people were watching, the candidates' views on taxation were a key divergent point.
But on Beacon Hill that afternoon, it was difficult to tell them apart. Durkan answered a question about regressive taxes by saying, "We have to keep putting pressure on Olympia... to have things like a capital gains tax. To give us a real-estate excise tax so that people who buy and sell luxury properties share more." (Durkan's online policy paper does not mention a capital gains tax.) This wasn't the first time Durkan seemed to mirror Moon. After spending months attacking her opponent for focusing on real-estate speculation, Durkan herself released a policy paper that included initiatives targeting the practice.
"She uses my same phrases, even," Moon said to me after the CIRCC forum.
The other moment that set Moon apart came during her closing statement. The day before the CIRCC forum, Moon had been grumbling to her team about her recent endorsement interview with the Seattle Times editorial board. Her team suggested she share the anecdote with a bigger audience. She rolled it out after Durkan delivered a stump speech that touted her work at Sea-Tac defending immigrants after Trump's first travel ban.
"I spent a good chunk of Sunday meeting with leaders from advocacy organizations led by communities of color," Moon said to the near-capacity crowd at the Eritrean Association. "Then I went to the Seattle Times editorial board meeting, which was the pinnacle of entitlement, white superiority, and hostility. Just demanding, demanding, demanding. What will I do to protect the status quo? What will I do to make the vision of Seattle that they care about? Then I went straight from there to a group of black clergy. And those three meetings juxtaposed together infuriated me. I was in such a rage. The skills, the intelligence, the solutions, the commitment to a greater city in the first and third meetings compared to the explosive, hostile, power-protection in the second meeting made me really determined to get to the mayor's office."
Moon often touts a leadership style centered on listening. As the crowd thinned out, I got a sense of what that might look like. First, a limo service driver named Haile Asfaha approached Moon. He said Uber and Lyft have cut into his business. Maybe the city should consider placing a cap on rideshare drivers? "I'm breaking my back working so long and not making money," he said. "Do you think this could be on your agenda, also?"
"We need a level playing field between the taxis and TNCs," Moon responded, referring to transportation network companies (city-speak for apps that let you hail a ride). The driver tried driving UberX once, he went on to say, but made just $150 for 14 hours of work. Moon shook his hand and thanked him. "That's really helpful," she said.
Moon posed for more photos and headed for the door before a city employee flagged her down. The employee, who asked me not to print her name, complained about how arbitrary "low income" standards bar some African American families from opportunities like the Seattle Youth Employment Program, which uses guidelines developed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine eligibility.
"I do work for the city and I make income, but barely enough to scrape by and not enough to enhance my kid's development with that kind of thing," the employee said. "I'm really involved in trying to address this, but I can't do it without executive leadership to change the policies."
"If I win, please come talk to me on day one," Moon said.
Durkan had already taken off for a second forum in Greenwood. Moments before, I asked her to evaluate Moon as an opponent. She told me: "The only two people who know how hard this has been is Cary and I. She's got a great sense of optimism."
Moon hopped back into the Subaru and buckled up. "Back to white people land," she said. On the way to Greenwood, I asked her about her comment earlier in the day to Podlodowski that she feels like she's already won the race. Does she think she will win? "Yes, because I think my position and platform match Seattle values," Moon said. "People are struggling. They're not afraid of change. They're desperate."
"It's good to fight uphill sometimes," Thai reflected in the driver's seat as we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The hill looks pretty steep from the back seat. But it wouldn't be unprecedented for an out-funded, out-endorsed, outsider candidate to beat the establishment for Seattle's executive chair. We don't need to look any farther back than 2009, when Mike McGinn, an environmental activist who had never held elected office, beat out businessman Joe Mallahan to become Seattle's 52nd mayor. Mallahan had never held elected office, either, but the establishment rallied around him after both men beat a two-term incumbent to make it through to the general election.
If Moon should win on November 7—if she actually makes it to the top of that hill—perhaps no one will be more surprised than the mayor-elect herself.
This story has been updated to correct the amount Durkan's IE has received. It has also been updated to better reflect Durkan's position on taxes and speculation and to reflect that Moon has the endorsement of Our Revolution local chapters.